Memorial Day in Old Waterville
It all happened more than 80 years ago, but I remember it as if it were yesterday. Memorial Day, or Decoration Day as we called it, was a very important holiday in Waterville. We anticipated it for many weeks, wondering what to wear, and praying for good weather so that nothing could stop the parade.
We started to the celebration from our farm on Dutch Road in our family horse-drawn surrey and soon were standing in front of the Columbian House on the south side, waiting to hear the distant roll of the drum, which would herald the approach of the long awaited parade. The band was led and directed by Will Kern, an able cornetist and member of the talented and musical Conrad family. It was made up of willing and perhaps unwilling volunteers, five or six in number, and anyone able to play any musical instrument, but always at the end, the big bass drum.
After the band came the Civil War veterans able to march. Those who weren’t were driven in open carriages.
This was followed by various organizations, religious or patriotic. I was always fascinated by the Modern Woodmen of America, resplendent in their brilliant green uniforms, each with a shining silver but frightening ax over his shoulder.
Last came the flower girls, little girls dressed in white, each carrying a bouquet of flowers, later to be placed on the grave of a veteran. I watched them with great admiration and, I will admit, a touch of envy.
We followed the procession up to Witte’s Hall, over the hardware store, and listened to the program of the day, an hour or more of speeches and musical selections. Then up the hill to the Canal Bridge where there was a brief ceremony honoring the memory of those soldiers who had died at sea. We looked down to see rowboats filled with flowers and young girls dropping blossoms in the water, one by one.
I stopped my ears to wait for the three gun salute, and then it was a short walk to the cemetery where the flower girls would look for a grave with an empty vase in which they would place their bouquet.
One year in the spring, I received a great surprise. Mrs. Cole, the “major-domo” of the entire Decoration Day celebration, telephoned my mother and asked her whether some of the little girls from our neighborhood one-room school could participate as flower girls in the parade. What excitement! I will never forget this moment! My dear mother entered into the spirit of the occasion and purchased navy blue cotton from which she fashioned banners for us, bearing the letters DISTRICT NO. 1, carefully sewn on.
I proudly wore this through the parade, up the hill to the Canal Bridge, and on to the cemetery where we were instructed to find a grave with a flag and an empty vase for the flowers.
I started out eagerly, but to my dismay, I couldn’t find any empty vases. Finally, close to tears and in utter desperation, I hid my bouquet under a nearby arborvitae tree with branches touching the ground. And so, as far as I know, they are still there, although I doubt it!!
Written in 1997 by Ruth Fausz Herman, 1903-2000
Published in Bend of the River, May, 1997